When people go to Italy, one of the things they’re usually expecting is great food. Yes, it’s the country of art and music and fashion and scenery – but there are scores of people every year who visit Italy simply to eat, and eat well. The good news is that, throughout most of the country, this is very easy to do – and on very little money. The even better news is that there’s a relatively new way to experience Italian food when it’s at its best – at home.
Home Food is an organization which began in Bologna (the heart of the food-centric Emilia-Romagna region) in April 2004 to both preserve local cooking traditions and also show off the best cuisine Italy has to offer. The program is designed to appeal to both visitors wanting to taste real Italian cooking and Italians who want to re-learn the cooking skills that may have been lost through the generations. And from all accounts, it’s succeeding wildly so far.
>> Read about my experience at a Home Food dinner in Milan in November 2007
Here’s a video from Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie that talks more about the Home Food program:
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The way the program works is that you pay a membership fee (it’s much more expensive to be a member in Italy than it is as a tourist) to start and then you’re able to see what dinners are on the calendar for any given region of the country. You’ll pay an additional fee to the host of the meal, usually €30-50 depending on how fancy or how many courses it is, and you’ll go to someone’s home to eat. It could be the cozy dining room of a Rome apartment or the table-for-twenty salon of a Tuscan palazzo. What you’re guaranteed of getting, no matter where you are, is an Italian meal with food and recipes that are typical of that city and region as well as that time of year.
The people who host the meals, called “Cesarine,” go through a rigorous process just to be eligible to host guests. The organization makes the process challenging on purpose – they want the Cesarine to be showcasing the absolute best Italy has to offer, and also to be using local and fresh ingredients. The idea isn’t to make food that’s new or cutting-edge or designer – far from it. You’re likely to get some of the simplest food you’ve ever eaten, and yet still some of the absolute best.
Really, the only drawback to the system is the schedule – because there aren’t countless Cesarine in each city, and because they’re certainly not going to be hosting guests every night of the week, the calendar is limited. If you’re a foodie and you’re planning a trip to Italy, check the calendar soon so you’ll have time to become a member and register for an event if there’s one near where you’ll be. Heck, it also might be worth changing plans to put yourself near an event, if that’s possible.
I remember hearing about Home Food last year, and in the one trip I’ve made to Italy since I first heard of it, I’ve not been able to give it a try. It’s very high on my “to-do” list on my next trip, though, I can tell you that.